When it comes to savoury pies, the Brits have long proven their expertise. However, the French Pithiviers — a round puff pastry pie — seems to be getting a lot of attention on this side of the Channel. And rightly so: the possibilities are endless!
The origins of Pithiviers
You may have seen it on trendy menus in its savoury version, but this dish actually comes from a French dessert, hailing from the small town of Pithiviers in the Loire region. The recipe has greatly changed over the centuries: back in the Gallic times when Pithiviers was a commercial crossroads, the Pithiviers fondant was the love child of their traditional wheat cake and the Roman almonds. The 18th century and the invention of pastry (eternal gratitude to Mr. Feuillet for the pâte feuilletée) brought a feuilleté twist to this first version. The specialty now involved a generous amount of almond cream snugly tucked in between two disks of puff pastry — the top one golden and prettily ornamented with curved lines. Hide a lucky charm or a bean in the cream and you’re pretty close to a Twelfth Night cake. Nowadays, the Pithiviers is also commonly baked as a savoury pie, often filled with poultry, or pork and veg.
Meet the Pithiviers and ‘pie king’
At the forefront of the high-level pie trend in London, self-confessed ‘pastry deviant’ chef Calum Franklin, former executive head chef at The Rosewood Hotel’s Holborn Dining Room and author of the award-winning The Pie Room cookbook — to give you a sense of his devotion! After heading the He’s been feeding his 141K Insta followers incredibly mesmerising pie art. We’ve caught up with the ‘pie king’ (according to Jamie Oliver) about his experience of Pithiviers.
Tell us about your first attempt at savoury Pithiviers
It was back in 2004-2005 when ‘Modern European’ cooking dominated the culinary scene in the UK. We would do quite a lot of classical French cooking and I remember well a ‘Pithiviers aux Saint-Jacques’ — a hand-dived scallop wrapped in a truffled scallop mousse, spinach and finally puff pastry. It needed to be very accurately cooked for the scallop in the middle to be perfect. Quite complex, but amazing stuff and I adore cooking like that.
Which one did you first serve when working at the Pie Room?
The first savoury ‘Pithiviers’ added to the menu was at the beginning of game hunting season in 2016. We wanted to serve a whole Scottish grouse, but off the bone. So we created a ‘Pithiviers’ that held the breasts, confit leg meat, all of the offal inside and a ‘jus’ made from the roasted carcass. You would have the enjoyment of eating the whole roasted bird with the added bonus of pastry — and a beautiful dish!
What's your favourite savoury Pithiviers filling recipe?
One of my favourite — believe it or not! — is vegetarian. But I prefer it to a meat or fish ‘Pithiviers’! The filling is ‘dauphinoise’ potatoes layered with caramelised onions, and a lovely aged Comté cheese. And it is completely delicious.
Do try this at home — for the most venturesome
Calum Franklin doesn’t leave you clueless: He’s published the perfect guide: The Pie Room: 80 achievable and show-stopping pies and sides for pie by Calum Franklin, 288 pages dedicated to the matter! (£26, Bloomsbury Absolute).
His debut cookbook is a treasure trove for all the best pastry dishes recipes — Pithiviers pie, the ultimate sausage roll, chicken and mushroom pie... The key is in ‘achievable’. Get acquainted with all the different kinds of filling and get your crimping game on: soon you’ll be making pie masterpieces.
If you’re feeling like enjoying a Pithiviers at home, but not quite ready to get your hands dirty, stop by the Pie Room and grab a ‘pie-to-go’. Let the Pithiviers join your food routine!
Where to have the best British Pithiviers
Last but not least, if you’ve been reading carefully, by now you’ll have understood that you must try Pithiviers and other pie expert delicacies at the Holborn Dining Room or their Pie Hole street-side hatch.
But there’s other options in London too: the Woodhead group also has a thing for Pithiviers, which regularly pops up on the menu at Portland or Clipstone, like this fallow deer with wild black trumpet mushrooms and pickled elderberries number. For a baker’s take on the pie, look out for the seasonal Pithiviers on Pophams Bakery’s menu. This summer, a root veg, marmite and schlossberger cheese weekend special caught our eye. Just take your pick!